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The Battle Flag -- and the Stars and Bars -- are racist symbols: Dump them


Monty Python couldn't have done it better. One of the British comedy troupe's fave sidesplitters depicted an incensed John Cleese trying to return a decidedly deceased parrot to a pet store owner, Michael Palin. Part of the sketch goes:

Cleese: Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Palin: No, no, he's not dead, he's, he's restin'!

So it goes in the Georgia Assembly in the endless posturing over the state flag.

Forget that Georgia is broke. Forget that legislators have again unleashed rapacious bankers to prey on those least able to protect themselves. Forget the assault on your rights to recover just damages from incompetent doctors and reckless (if not criminal) corporations. Forget that schools are sardine-can overcrowded and educators don't have a prayer of keeping up with growth. Forget that in all but a few elite schools, Georgia's woefully underfunded public education ranks so low, it almost falls off the list of states and into competition with countries like Uganda. Forget that ethical standards among public officials are so non-existent that even patchwork, impotent proposals are hailed as courageous. Forget about the environment. Forget about poor people railroaded off to jail without competent counsel, an affront to the most basic constitutional principles.

Forget everything because Georgia is on the brink of reinstitutionalizing raw, rancid racism. Whether we opt for a slightly retooled Confederate Stars and Bars or the Rebel Battle Flag, we still end up hanging the banner of a diseased and defeated excuse for a social system above our public buildings.

That the Legislature's Ultimate Wacko, Rep. Bobby Franklin, wants to scrawl "In God We Trust" on a flag whose 19th-century cause was anathema to any teaching of Christ I can find in the Bible is delicious irony. (And, there's nothing patriotic in Franklin's ploy. Rather, it's a blatant -- and thoroughly anti-American -- attempt to impose his view of religion on the state. As Rep. Doug Teper, who is Jewish, quipped, what Franklin is really stamping on the flag is: "In Jesus We Trust.")

In short, it's all very Republican.

Here's how the jolly chaps at Monty Python might act it:

Cleese (playing The Rest of the World): Look, matey, I know a racist emblem when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Palin (playing Gov. Sonny Perdue, the GOP and no-scruples white Democrats): No, no, it's not racist. It's just HERITAGE!

The Civil War ended with the surrender of the last Confederate army, in Texas, on May 26, 1865. But y'all know that. Let's think about another war for a moment. Almost 80 years later, on May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered.

All other issues aside, Germans and Southerners have something in common -- how to address a collective, culture-wide crime of murderous racism. We're talking guilt, writ large.

The South embraced the enslavement of one race as a romanticized economic system. Nazi Germany wasn't defined by slavery, but it employed the practice -- hideously so -- justifying its crimes through a twisted mythology of racial supremacy. One could argue that the Confederacy was slightly more egalitarian than the Nazis -- Southerners generally regarded all white folks as superior, while the Germans excluded from their club all but those they considered the purest of the race.

The crushing defeats of the South and Germany forced their citizens to abandon, at least officially, the slavery and racist underpinnings of their societies. That's only the beginning, however, of rehabilitation. Survivors who had participated in the crimes -- lesser ex-Nazis and almost all Southern ex-slave owners -- remained, and many regained success and status after the wars.

More important, their causes might have been defeated, but the mythologies (whether Wagner-whistling Teutonic knights or Margaret Mitchell's delusional depictions of "gray" chivalry) didn't die. It's hard, both as individuals and as peoples, to accept that what was patriotism one day is verboten the next. Germans and Southerners fervently believed their causes were just, and were blessed by God and/or Destiny. Then, one day, all that was sacred became profane. Whiplash on a national scale.

Those who had fomented the wars -- at least the ones who avoided Yankee and Allied nooses and cells -- often stood to gain through continued criminality. Many ex-Nazis found it convenient to morph into apparatchiks and Stasi commanders in East Germany. The Southern ruling class used terrorism and racism -- epitomized by the Ku Klux Klan and the "Citizens Councils" -- to divide and conquer poor whites and blacks.

Germans, after the war, realized the only way to heal their society was to strip away and trash the mythology. Occasionally with reluctance, and never with total success, they ripped out the vestiges of Nazism. Oh, sure, behind closed doors in beer halls, "they" gathered, clicked their heels, bellowed the "Horst Wesel" song and toasted the memory of "him." But those nasty fellows had to hide their nostalgia.

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